Innovative ‘Violence Innovation Program’ aims to reduce violent crime in Northeast Ohio

Program seeks to provide help for young adults facing gun charges
Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 6:02 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Violent crime and gun violence has escalated over the past three years and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Brendan Sheehan wants to do something about it.

“I’d go home every night and think what is going on here, what are we doing?” Judge Sheehan asked. “I got so frustrated, there’s got to be something better.

The Judge received $750,000 in federal money for a diversion program that targets young adults charged with a gun felony while not using a gun in the crime.

“I want to be clear: These folks are not shooting at people,” said Sheehan. “These are people with guns with non-violent backgrounds and not involved with gangs.”

His program uses mentoring, drug treatment, de-escalation, jobs, and education.

“Gun violence is a disease,” said Myesha Crowe, Executive Director of Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance, a group that’s been with the VIP since the beginning, three years ago.

“Our goal is to teach young de-escalation skills and conflict resolution skills and how to best use alternatives to violence,” said Crowe.

Judge Sheehan said he wanted to try something other than the usual:

“Get him into court, send him to prison, put a felony on his record. Here’s the benefit,” Sheehan explained. “If they successfully complete the program, the prosecutor dismisses the case like it never happened so it’s a win/win for everybody.”

Nineteen-year-old Johnathan Johnson is one of the young adults in the program, caught with a gun in his car after getting involved in a fight at Edgewater Marina, facing eighteen months in jail for having a gun.

If Johnathan completes the 12 to 18-month program, he won’t face the gun charges.

“I like it,” said the high school senior who will return to school seven credits short of a diploma. “It helps me stay out of trouble, do what I’m supposed to do.”

“When he did get caught up and he had to went to jail for them 48, 72 hours, he was going crazy so I know he can’t do eighteen months,” said his grandmother, Yolanda Guerry, who’s been with him every step of the way. “And when he goes to jail, I go to jail.”

The program can handle 40 participants and will be expanded if successful, according to Judge Sheehan.

“I think this is the first step to getting Johnathan on the right path,” said Guerry. “He’s not a bad kid. He made a bad decision.”

“I’m worried for you; I’m worried for your Grandmother,” said Sheehan as Johnson and Guerry left his courtroom. “Let’s get this done. Alright?

The court meets every other Tuesday.

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